Reading the title essay of Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine has given me space to reconsider my own version of Madame Poulard’s renowned dish. The best omelette I’ve ever eaten — that at the Broadview Restaurant in Galesburg, Illinois — might not even classify as an omelette, by Davis’ definition, but it classifies in my unstringent American book.
It also stands up to the OED’s definition, which designates an omelette as “a dish mainly consisting of eggs whipped up, seasoned, and fried; often varied by the addition of other ingredients, as cheese, apples, parsley, chopped ham, fish, mushrooms, etc.” The first recorded usage of the word was in 1611: a Haumelette was a “Pancake of egges.” The word “omelette” is thought to have derived from a transmutation of the Latin “lamella,” or sword blade — a reference to the dish’s flat shape. So far, so good. The Broadview’s omelette is anything but flat — rather, it is a big ol’ heap of food — but it is a dish consisting of eggs and sundry other ingredients. My musings, then, can proceed as begun.
I was a latecomer to the Joy of the Omelette. For much of my life, I avoided eggs entirely (minus those baked into desserts: those were unavoidable). I remember being grounded, as a four-year-old, when I refused to eat the scrambled eggs I’d been served for breakfast. They were perfect eggs, too, light and pale yellow and scooped into a small, fluffy pile on my red plastic plate. But, to my young self, the texture of eggs was incomprehensibly nasty, just worse than jello and just better than mucous. It took me years to introduce eggs to my diet; even then, I’d only eat them hard-boiled, still warm, and lightly salted.
Then college happened. My food tastes diversified multifold. Suddenly, I was eating things I’d never have deigned to try: polenta, feta, raw baby spinach — even eggs! Eggs were still a tricky subject; in addition to eating them hard-boiled, I now ate them in the form of a Breakfast Bagel. (Note: The Breakfast Bagel was a sandwich served at the Gizmo, my college’s student union restaurant. The BB consisted of a white bagel, toasted, that sandwiched a fried egg topped with American cheese. Two slices of bacon or a sausage patty (or both) could be added to the BB for an additional charge.)
Breakfast Bagels were critical in my slow acceptance of eggs as a Good and Necessary Food. I enjoyed my bagels with pepper and dipped in ketchup — gross, I know, but this was Western Illinois. I now counted two preparations of eggs as edible; I no longer feared the errant runny yolk.
I wish I could tell you that my transition to omelets was swift and sexy, that the Breakfast Bagel was a gateway drug that worked its wonders stat(!), but that wasn’t the case. Not until the midpoint of my senior year did I sample my first omelette.
I wish too that I could recall with perfect clarity the events preceding and following Initial Omelet Consumption, but my memory, like the food itself, is muddled. What I do know: it was infinitely late at night (the Broadview, for those not in the know, was a popular post-party destination). I was with friends, one of whom convinced me to try a Denver omelet. Thus, it began. Bleary-eyed and wobbly, smashed in a vinyl booth with five of my pals, I gave eggs another chance.
Clearly, I’m glad I did. Omelets have become one of my all-time favorite foods — and for good reason. They’re highly customizable (bacon, cheddar, and broccoli? YES PLEASE), high in protein, and good for any meal of the day. As I learned several years after my first taste, they’re also pretty easy to make at home. In college, though, and for most of grad school, omelets were strictly diner food, best enjoyed in the company of the hungover in a joint with jukeboxes on each table.
Even in this city, I have yet to find an omelet that stacks up to the Broadview’s. This declaration is fueled, in part, by nostalgia: that much is true. But it’s also rooted in reality — I can’t name my favorite SF omelet joint because I don’t have one. Squat and Gobble’s product is hopelessly average; Bar Tartine’s (the one time I had it) was offensively underdone. What’s a girl to do but dream of the good old days, the days when the only toast options were white or wheat, when the jam wasn’t local/organic/handmade, but rather came in miniature plastic packets stacked on each table? Until I find my SF Broadview, dreaming will sustain me.